SAGA – The Saga District Court on Friday rejected a suit seeking to block Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s plan to use plutonium-uranium mixed oxide fuel (MOX) at the Genkai power plant in Saga Prefecture.
“Any danger has not been proven,” the court said as it handed down the nation’s first ruling on the legality of burning the controversial fuel in reactors.
Kyushu Electric is waiting for the Nuclear Regulation Authority to approve its application to restart the Genkai plant’s No. 3 reactor, which is designed to run on both MOX and standard uranium fuel.
MOX fuel is controversial because it is made with weapons-grade plutonium, which could prove to be much more dangerous in a nuclear accident.
In the suit, a citizens group in the city of Saga argued that the nuclear reaction of the MOX fuel to be burned in the No. 3 reactor is more difficult to control than typical uranium fuel and poses a more serious accident risk.
Specifically, the plaintiffs argued that a gap could develop between the MOX fuel and its tubular container, and the hollow would further separate the fuel from the cooling water outside the tube, making cooling ineffective and leading to a grave accident, such as a meltdown.
The court ruled such a gap is unlikely to emerge or cause a core meltdown.
The group’s argument is based on data for a foreign nuclear power plant with specifications different from the Genkai plant, the ruling said.
“Kyushu Electric has evaluated the safety of the MOX fuel in the strictest way and fulfilled safety standards,” it said.
Kyushu Electric hailed the ruling. “The court accepted our claim that we have secured safety.”
But plaintiffs and their supporters denounced the ruling as unreasonable and said they will appeal.
The reactor in 2009 became the first in Japan to use MOX fuel but has been offline since 2010. The MOX fuel it will use if allowed to restart is produced by France’s Melox S.A.